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Former Twitter X caught running unlabeled ads in Following feeds

Confirmed that X, formerly Twitter, was running unlabeled ads in users’ Following feeds. On a Mac using Chrome, we saw a few unlabeled ads among posts from people we follow, as well as ads that displayed the “Ad” label at the top right.

Many of X’s ads are labeled, making unlabeled ones harder to spot.

Whether the issue is a glitch with X’s advertising platform or a deliberate change to trick consumers into thinking some ads are regular posts from accounts they follow is unclear.

In our tests, we found several unlabeled ads from accounts we didn’t follow. The only indication they were an ad was clicking the three-dot menu at the top-right of the post. This menu on an ad offers engagement options like “Not interested in this ad” and “Why this ad?” as well as tools to follow, mute, block, and more.

According to a tipster, some of the unlabeled ads were from NFL teams, but found other posts without the ad label when we tried to reproduce the problem. This required lots of scrolling and clicking!

X changed its ad labeling format in July, moving from a more prominent “Promoted” label at the bottom of its ads to an arrow icon above the post’s interaction buttons like reply and retweet.

Now, the word “Ad” appears on the top-right of a post next to the poster’s name and @username, which some critics said made ads less noticeable.

X was not breaking deceptive advertising laws because those posts were still ads.

Since many ads are now on users’ timelines without labels, that may change.

“The FTC should open up an investigation into X’s use of stealth ads, especially whether it is engaged in deceptive business tactics,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington, D.C.-based digital rights, consumer protection, and privacy organization. “It should require X to disgorge any user data it or its ad partners have gathered, in addition to fines and other sanctions,” he said.

Doesn’t Elon Musk know that X can’t be effectively ad-supported given his Twitter environment? The attempt to disguise ads as content signals financial desperation, not a ‘brand safe’ site for advertisers. Chester added.

We found several posts about the unlabeled ads before today, suggesting it may be a recurring issue.

Senior Staff Attorney Adam Schwartz of digital privacy nonprofit EFF said, “A user’s control of their social media experience must include clear labeling of ads they did not seek, as distinct from content they did seek.” “If a platform fails to label ads, it should fix it.”

X’s new CEO, Linda Yaccarino, joined the company in June from NBCUniversal, where she was chairman of its advertising and partnerships group. The ad labeling mistake could draw the FTC’s attention or another regulatory investigation. Her hiring signaled to advertisers that a responsible adult who understood business was in charge of revenue-generating for the Elon Musk-owned company.

X has offered advertisers a $250 ad credit and promised to let them choose their own brand safety “sensitivity” settings since Yaccarino’s hire. However, Elon Musk recently blamed the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for X’s declining U.S. advertising revenues and threatened to sue the organization.

No press inquiries are answered by X’s communications department.

However, X responded to our comment request with an automated email saying, “Busy now, please check back later.” The company previously responded to inquiries with poop emojis.

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